This post is really about Paradise Lost. Well, that's not quite true. This post provides you with links to the exclaim.ca pages that feature my review of the new Paradise Lost record, Tragic Idol, and a Q&A with guitarist Greg Mackintosh. That page is about Paradise Lost. This post, as so many of my blog ramblings are, is more so about me and my idiosyncratic reflections on being in this world.
This particular rambling reflection is historical, reaching way back to my high school days. Back to when I wanted to be a metal guitarist. I did - it's true. I had dreams of standing on stage, with my shaggy hair, generic jeans, heavy boots, and baggy t-shirts, wailing away - wait, I was more into rumbling power chords, actually - in a metal performance where my musical impulses met up with expert execution. And though it seems a little sad to me now to think of it this way, I imagined transcending gender to get there, even envisioning myself as a gender enigma, too difficult to decode. It's an intriguing memory to think back on, because that particular headspace is forever locked up in a me that's long gone.
Many of you can likely speculate with some accuracy why I had trouble imagining myself as a woman and a metal guitarist. I was just starting to immerse myself in thrash and death metal and at that time female role models were even fewer than now. And most of the woman performers I knew of in the lighter end of the metal spectrum capitalized in some way on big hair, bright red lips, and tight leather, which was not a tactic I wanted to explore. Not as a career move anyway. So, I cultivated baggy metal shirts and shaggy hair, and practiced my guitar playing.
My progress was slower than my ambition. I wanted to be in a band, but didn't have the chops to back the desire up. Of course, lots of people have refused to let skills-in-progress keep them from getting started, but I discovered riot grrrl rather late and didn't know of any community of like-minded women who I could make noise with. Sadly, the only bandmates I've had have been men. (sadly only in a way though - I don't regret my musical partnerships)
If you haven't forgotten all about my earlier reference to Paradise Lost by now, you may be wondering, 'what the hell? what does this have to do with Paradise Lost?!' Fair enough. But I'm getting there.
While I'm working on my guitar playing chops (we're still in the past here), making slower progress than my desire to play demands, I notice a new flyer in the window of my favourite local record store (Encore Records are still there, in fact – check 'em out: www.encorerecords.ca). Some local metal band is looking for a keyboardist and female back-up vocalist.
At this point I was still a better piano player and singer than guitarist, and my desire to be in a band seemed to trump all... So I made the call (never mind I didn't actually own a keyboard at the time), and a few weeks (?) later, it was all real.
Gothic doom we called it, though I don't remember when precisely we settled on the term. But after a few months with still no death growler I was voted up to the main mic, fronting what we (or at least I) imagined as at core a doomy death metal band. At the time, at least to us, this seemed like a new idea. I didn't know any extreme bands with women singing lead vocals. (hell, I don't think I'd ever even used "extreme metal" as a term that early on.) And when The Gathering released Mandylion in 1995, I thought, 'wow, someone else has got the same thing in mind...'.
I'm not claiming to be a trail blazer – this all just kind of happened rather than being the result of some elaborate plan. But at the time, we weren't following a formula we already knew, more so reacting against some of what we knew. For instance, I remember being extremely concerned that my vocals blend in with the rest of the band, just one more instrument in the mix, in contrast to the female pop metal performances I witnessed on the radio or tv.
Somewhere between then and now, bands with female singers ended up getting labelled, most often, as gothic metal by default, however much or little their music actually sounds goth. I find this ridiculous, but I can sort of see where it came from. To some extent, the use of female singing in metal was pioneered by the founders of gothic metal (or death-doom, depending on who you ask), and that's who inspired the guys I ended up performing with. Think Paradise Lost, that flyer suggested. And I was super into Paradise Lost's Icon at the time, and loved making up my own countermelodies to various death metal tracks, so I knew exactly what they had in mind.
You won't find female vocals, and almost no keyboards, on the latest Paradise Lost record. But listening to Tragic Idol I still get that driving urge to perform in a band (and I still want to play guitar most of all). And so, finally, nearly two decades later, I got the chance to interview guitarist Greg Mackintosh for Exclaim, if only by email. How could I pass that chance up?